The minute you see Willem Dafoe playing the U.S. secretary of defense in XXX: State of the Union, you think “maniac.” You think “turncoat.” You think, “How did this slimeball get White House clearance?”

Casting perma-creep Dafoe as a villain is not exactly a fresh way to make a movie, and there’s not much else that’s fresh about State of the Union, in which another convict is broken out of jail and forced to work for a super-secret government agency. Ice Cube plays XXX – X to his friends or, at least, to the people he’s not slaughtering – who joins forces with the denizens of a high-tech chop shop to preserve the right to life, liberty and a pimped-out ride.

The president of the United States (Peter Krauss) is involved, but State of the Union is about hardware (cars, guns, dynamite) not software (i.e., people). And, clearly, director Lee Tamahori was hired for his James Bond credit (Die Another Day) not his spousal-abuse-in-New-Zealand credit (Once Were Warriors). What that means is the stunts and explosions are effective, but the dialogue and characters are not.

All of this is made clear in the final shot. Nona Gaye watches seductively as Cube peels out in a convertible, and you realize it’s not the guy she’s lusting after. It’s the car.

Grade: C

© 2005, St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).